Closer to Homeland than The Bridge with its theme about terrorism and intelligence services, Greyzone had a record premiere on C More and opened on TV2 Denmark on Sunday. The high-octane thriller series is the most ambitious and internationally-oriented drama series for Danish production house Cosmo Film (Lækerveij/Park Road, Anna Pihl)).

In the 10-part series, Borgen and Pitch Perfect 2’s Birgitte Hjort Sørensen plays Victoria, a drone engineer taken hostage by terrorists while secret services in Denmark and Sweden try to prevent the attack on Scandinavian soil. Victoria’s complex relationship with her captor (Ardalan Esmaili from The Charmer) takes an unexpected turn. ITV Studios Global Entertainment in charge of world distribution will launch the entire series at MIP TV.

What was your exact role in the making of Greyzone and who came up with the idea for the show? Rasmus Thorsen: As producer and co-creator, I am the showrunner, having put all the financial and creative pieces together. It all started in 2014, when I sat down with producers at Tre Vänner [now SF Studios] and we started discussing possible TV drama collaborations. One idea was to explore how we are affected by the irrational fear of terrorism. Our approach was thematic from the start. We brought in the brilliant Oskar Söderlund [The Fat and The Angry] as head-writer/co-creator with whom I started to set the frame for the story. We felt it would be interesting to see the main female character, drone engineer Victoria, caught between two very strong forces, trying to find a way out of the double game she plays with her captor and the secret services.

The subject of terrorism is very sensitive and topical. How did you make sure you would find the right tone?
RT: We did a lot of research. We knew that the vital part would be authenticity. We wanted people to believe this was something that could happen for real. The most interesting element for us is that we teamed up with a celebrated Scandinavian psychiatrist (Michael Bruun) who has worked with the police and military forces. He was a negotiator on a Somalia kidnapping and took part in the psychological support after the hostages were freed.

A crucial part as well was the world of secret intelligence services. We found the former head of operations at the Danish P.E.T, Frank Jensen. He heard of the project and came on board from the first to final draft. We had more than 25 meetings with him where he gave us real life examples.

Were you inspired for the story by Bron/The Bridge with this full partnership across the Öresund bridge of Swedish and Danish forces?
RT: The project was born as a true collaboration between Swedish and Danish creative forces and we found it very easy to keep it organic. We never looked at this from a structural point of view, to get a 50/50 collaboration. But The Bridge did show us that the audience is open to a bilingual-language show. It broke the ice in a way.

Was your ambition to move away from the classic Nordic noir?
Today television and small screens are where you get the largest audience, not film. Therefore you have an obligation to bring something entertaining and relevant to the audience, about who we are and where we are going. With Greyzone, our ambition was to bring a new perspective to what we hear on the news about terrorism.

What new perspective did you want to give?
Terrorism can be portrayed in a simplistic way, with good on one side, and evil on the other side, but under a magnifying glass, things are more complex. In Denmark, we have participated in the last 2-3 wars conducted by the Americans and 52 Danish soldiers died in Afghanistan alone. Sweden and Denmark see themselves as humanistic superpowers with transparent, just societies, but this is debatable; let’s not forget that the third biggest weapon exporter in the world per capita is Sweden. We’re having a huge refugee crisis because of war and military interventions around the world. We are on the receivers’ end, but we can ask if we aren’t also part of the geo-political system that has created this crisis.

There was an intelligent young poet in Denmark-Yahya Hassan who said: “if you stand on your head and poo…you will get shit on your head!” This is one of the themes that we explore in the series.

All the characters have arcs where they start at one point and are being dragged into the grey zone, and end up as different persons.

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen who plays the main role brings star power to the show. Was she an obvious choice from the outset? Did she contribute to her character development? RT: When we started discussing the project with the initial financiers, I thought of her and approached her before the directors were attached. She said “it sounds interesting, let me read a first treatment”. I did and she said: “I’m in!"  After, she got a contract with HBO to do Vinyl but she came back to work with us. She’s been very supportive, professional, and did extensive research on hostage situations. She gave her input through all the drafts. Personally, I believe in full creative collaborations and always let talent have a say. At Cosmo Film, we try to finish an entire season in the first draft before we start shooting, so that everyone knows what they are doing.

When did your various financial partners come on board and what was your full budget? RT: I received a great confidence from everyone to bring this project to fruition. TV2 were the first partners to go into the development, with ITV Studios in the UK and NRK. Then we had C More/TV4, Germany’s ZDF and Nadcon. The full series cost €10 million.

Is Greyzone your biggest production ever at Cosmo Film?
Yes, we’ve produced 177 episodes of drama series so far (with Greyzone included) and many of them have been sold around the world and made into remakes. This is the first time we built a huge international production from scratch, around an original idea. For us, it’s a new level in terms of budget, ambition and international scale.

What did you learn from that experience and where do you see Cosmo Film in the mid-term? You’ve been producing feature films and documentaries in the past, parallel to TV series…
We started producing drama series in 2002. We haven’t produced any feature film since 2012 and have none in the pipeline. As for documentaries, it was a rewarding but expensive hobby. Therefore, for the last 7 years, we’ve been focusing solely on TV drama.

As producer/creator, I find working in long form fiction much more rewarding as you can go deeper into character development and plot. Also, today’s possibilities of creating drama for a larger international audience is super attractive and it will be part of our future plans.

What’s next?
RT: We are developing an English-language project set in an international arena. We will announce details this fall.